By LARRY VAUGHT
PJ Washington added another postseason honor today when he the National Association of Basketball Coaches tabbed him to its All-District 21 First Team. However, on this day, that was secondary news about the Kentucky sophomore because Kentucky coach John Calipari announced that his team’s leading scorer and rebounder would not play in tonight’s NCAA Tournament opener against Abilene Christian.
“The specialists confirmed our original diagnosis that PJ Washington has a sprained foot and there is no fracture. Once we determined that PJ was not going to play today, they put him in a hard cast for precautionary reasons. He is out for today’s game,” Calipari posted on Twitter.
It was just 24 hours earlier that Calipari noted Washington had sprained his foot in Saturday’s SEC tourney semifinal loss to Tennessee but that X-rays and a MRI were negative. The coach said Washington had gone to see a specialist for precautionary reasons but Calipari expected him to play against Abilene Christian.
Washington leads the Wildcats in both scoring (14.8 points per game) and rebounding (7.5). He is averaging 17.9 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 blocks over the last 16 games and shooting 51.7 percent from the floor and 44.4 from 3-point range. In nine games against AP top 25 teams, Washington is averaging 16.1 points and 6.7 rebounds per game while shooting 53.1 percent.
So what happened overnight to take PJ Washington from being expected to play to being out? What forced him to change from the boot he had been wearing on his sprained foot to a hard cast?
Paul Washington, the player’s father, said Calipari’s tweet was “very accurate” and that since he was not a doctor he had nothing else to add.
I checked with two friends who are both doctors — and have no connections to UK and no inside information on Washington’s injury — about what might prompt putting Washington into a hard cast.
“Makes no sense to me to go from walking boot to hard cast if nothing is wrong. I say something is definitely wrong and more than a sprain,” one doctor told me. “Could it be precautionary, maybe. I don’t work for UK and with high level athletes, so maybe they go above and beyond the norm (on being cautious).
“I know about working with us regular folk not million dollar athletes. More money to do the above and beyond normal standard treatment (for a star athlete).”
My other doctor friend admitted it made him “nervous that someone thought he needed a cast” for his foot.
“In and of itself, the cast is just a more formal immobilization to make sure he has every opportunity to be rested and healed,” the doctor said. “However, the common sense side of me tells me that a cast is usually more serious business then a boot.
“Of course, they could just be taking the whole thing overboard to give him every chance to be at his top percent. But it makes me worry more than he would be unavailable on Saturday if he is in a cast today.”
Warning: Both doctors are huge UK fans who could be thinking with their hearts as much or more than their heads. Also Paul Washington warned me against paying attention to rumors — and there have been plenty about what might be wrong.
Calipari might share more information with Tom Leach on the UK Radio Network before the game but don’t count on it. Instead, if there’s going to be a more detailed update, it should come in Calipari’s postgame interview.